Three Thoughts and the Redemption of Time

timeBy Matt Sapp

Yesterday was my fourth wedding anniversary.  The second day of June, 2012, I married Julie Knight and have been privileged to live in her orbit ever since. Each year we each travel 93 million miles around the sun.  So, today, Julie and I have made it 372 million miles together—an incredible journey already.

And, as cliché as it sounds, I can’t believe it’s been four years already.

Time is a tricky thing. The same moments in our lives—like wedding days—can at one moment seem like only yesterday and at other moments seem like a lifetime ago.

I spent a good portion of my three-year master’s program thinking about time and its relationship to eternity and our sinfulness.  I won’t bore you with those thoughts here, except to say that as Christians we live in a world governed by the realities and rules of time, but we look forward to an eternal future in fellowship with an eternal God.  That makes our relationship with time strained at best.

Time, like us, is part of a fallen world that needs to be redeemed.  That means time is not an unqualified good; it is not an essential part of God’s design.  When time is used wisely, it can feel like a gift. But when time is squandered it feels like a curse.

Time is a tricky thing.  So here are three thoughts about time as I celebrate another trip around the sun with Julie.

  1. Learn to live with your past.

Every previous second—even the most painful ones, the ones marked by my greatest disappointments and mistakes—contributes to who I am today.  Although I know I’m far from perfect, I’m happy with the person God is leading me to become.

I haven’t always been able to say that.  Who has?  But I’m working, as I hope you are, too, to live beyond past regrets.  Don’t let any regret about who you’ve been or what you’ve done rob you of the joy of being who God calls you to be today.

  1. Don’t fear the future.

The control freak in all of us wants to know just exactly how tomorrow or next year or the next decade will turn out.  Uncertainty—and uncertainty is always about the future—naturally breeds fear.  Worry about the future robs us of the joy of now.  Jesus devotes a significant portion of the Sermon on the Mount to this idea. We should take note.

Learn to accept the future—whatever it may be—without the anxiety, worry, tension and nervousness that often accompanies uncertainty.

  1. Prioritize the present.

Prioritize the present.  And even more, prioritize the people in the present.  The most important parts of who we are—apart from God—are the people who make up the moments of our lives.

As I think about Julie today and the four years that have slipped by us, I’m reminded that we ought to prioritize people and our shared experiences together over everything else.

There is no other time but now.  There is no better time.  There is no perfect time.  There is no future time. There is only now.  Enjoy the present.  Value where you are and who you are and what you have now. It’s the only way to be happy.

One day, we say, when I have more economic security, I’ll be more true to myself.  One day, when I don’t have to worry what other people think, I’ll be bolder in my thinking.  One day I’ll be more truthful and daring in how I express myself.  We have all kinds of excuses that keep us from living fully into the people God has called us to be.

Now is the time to ditch the excuses. Now is the time to be who God has called you to be.

So, when you’re tempted to move beyond the present moment, either to the guilt of the past or the anxiety of the future, remember the great miracle that you are right now.

Don’t believe me? Right now, you are hurtling through space at more than 33,000 miles per hour on one more trip around the sun. Feel the wind on your face, and enjoy the ride.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

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Thanksgiving Reflection: The Fragility of Life and Gratitude

give_thanks_with_a_grateful_heart

By Joe LaGuardia – A Thanksgiving reflection.

Reflecting on the fragility of life and the significance of gratitude, the poet of Psalm 39 wrote, “Hear my prayer, O Lord . . . for I am your passing guest, a sojourner, like my ancestors” (v. 12).

This author is not alone in facing the finality of life, the gloom of grief, and the dark of night.  Most of us, be it at a funeral, in solitude with God, or even driving down the interstate while in prayer, have contemplated the brief existence that all of us share on our tiny planet in the cosmos.

When that realization comes, people take one of two paths:  Some take the path of despair and resignation, forgetting to give thanks to God.  They brood on the morbid and slowly isolate themselves under the dark clouds of negativity and regret.

This path often ends at the bottom of a spiritual well, where the only light that provides any rescue is far overhead.

The second path is that of gratitude and appreciation.

Even when great calamity strikes, these folks ride above the storms of hardship and thank God for every breath that comes with the gift of life.

Things are not perfect, but hope is accessible.   There may be doubt, but that does not lead to despair.

Happiness may be hard to find, but joy continues to define a life well-seated in trust and faith in God.

People on that second path know that all of life is a movement of worship, even when worship is expressed in lament.  (It is unfortunate we forget that lamentation is a part of worship, not solely reserved for funerals or memorial services.)

St. Paul is an example for those who choose to follow in the second path.  He made an intentional effort to approach all of life in a state of worship even when conflict and the threat of death overshadowed his desire to spread the Gospel of Christ.

In the second letter to Corinthian churches, he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2:14-15).

A pleasant fragrance passes through space and time briefly.  A person enjoys it for a moment, and it dissipates as soon as one feels its breezy touch.  The author of Psalm 39 wrote, “You have made my days a few handbreaths…we go about like shadows” (v. 5, 6).

From Paul’s perspective, even a moment in the presence of God provides an eternity of bliss and fulfillment.  Each passing instance was a gift from the Lord.

Do you see life (as fleeting as it is) as a breath that passes through the universe or like a sweet fragrance rising before the very throne of God?

In his commentary on Psalm 39, scholar F. B. Meyer noted that the good news in this poetry, even for those who face uncertain days and have but miniscule joy, is that God will never leave our side:  “We are sojourners ‘with God,’ he is our constant companion…We may be strangers [in life], but we are not solitary.  The Father is with us.”

After spending many years in ministry and too many days beside the beds of loved ones facing hardship, I have come to realize that all of us face a choice each day: Will this day be lived out in desperation and self-centered striving, or will the day be welcomed as a gift to be enjoyed, one filled with the promise of hope and gratitude, held firmly in the embrace of the God who promises eternal life?

Gratitude for so Great a Cloud of Witnesses

FamilyBy Matt Sapp

Have you ever noticed how the right people end up in the right place at the right time in your life?  Every so often I stop to count my blessings, and one of God’s greatest blessings is each person God has put in my life.

According to the writer of Hebrews, we are surrounded by a heavenly cloud of witnesses who cheer us on in our race through life. I’m grateful to them and to God for their presence and influence in my life.

I’m grateful for the mentors among us.  I attended Founder’s Day at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology last week. While I was there I spoke with professors, pastors, and former bosses.   I talked to fellow church ministers, some who started their ministerial journeys with me and some who are further down the road.

All of them smiled, shook my hand, gave me a hug, and said something encouraging. These are people who in one way or another have invested themselves in me or are sharing in my experience.  Connecting with them encourages me.  Their kind words mean something to me. They fill me up, and I am grateful.

I’m grateful for the young people in our midst.  I went to Six Flags with students from Heritage recently.  Teenage enthusiasm is infectious. They are open and honest, and they haven’t quite learned to be cautious and closed off yet.

Young people trust the world and believe the best about people.  They still know that things will work out okay in the end.

We sometimes laugh when children are afraid of Santa Claus or monsters under the bed.   But adults build all kinds of imagined fears that box them in, too.  Teenagers, on the other hand, live in that magical, mystical middle, unencumbered by fear.

It’s refreshing. You can learn a lot by hanging out with teenagers.

I’m grateful for family.  That includes family I see in person or talk to on the phone or by text message.

My family includes close friends too.   One friend sent me a funny email when I needed a laugh.  Another sent a text message about a new rock band in Atlanta.  Each touch reminds me that there are people out there willing to share their lives with me, that I am not alone.

Even when we don’t feel particularly lonely or isolated, friendship is encouraging.  We are, all of us, gifts from God to one another.

I’m grateful to be among church family. One woman who’s been like a grandmother to me for 34 years came to church to see me last Sunday.  She lives in Acworth and had to make arrangements to be away from her Sunday School class.   Now in her 80s, she still teaches preschoolers every week.

I’ve known my current church family for less than a year now, but I know how lucky I am.  They choose each day to reflect the love and graciousness of Christ in their encouragement and affirmation of me, so I work each day to live up to and into the shared vision that we’re building together.

The people in our lives make a difference. Ultimately, it’s our relationships with others that determine the quality of our lives.

I’m incredibly lucky to have relationships that bring health and balance to my life.  I bet you have similar relationships in your life, too. Take some time to think about it.

I bet you’ll discover that you’ve got more people on your side than you ever imagined.  That’s what I’ve discovered. Here’s my advice: Treasure those people.  Be there to encourage and support them, too.  And thank God every day for them.